Elvis Hits Collection Gets Royal Treatment

By | August 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM

“Elvis is in your jeans.” “He’s in your cheeseburgers.” “Elvis is in Nutty Buddies!” “Elvis is in your mom!”

Never has punk novelty act Mojo Nixon’s 1987 song “Elvis is Everywhere”* been more accurate than now.

In the year of the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, the King of rock ‘n’ roll topped the British charts. His songs grace Walt Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch” movie soundtrack. Hundreds of thousands of fans each year converge at Graceland, his home in Memphis, to pay homage to “The King.”

Now, taking a page from the handbook of his most loyal subjects, The Beatles, his record company will release on Sept. 24 “Elvis 30 #1 Hits,” a new collection of his chart-topping tunes with vastly improved sound aimed at reaching a new generation of fans.

The album boasts hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Burning Love” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” that span from the 1950s to the 1970s. Executive producer David Bendeth spent the about five months mixing the songs from the original master tapes for what he hopes will be the best sound quality of any Elvis release.

“I think we’ve created a high watermark with this album,” said Bendeth, who has worked with such acts as Bruce Hornsby and the Cowboy Junkies. “What has happened previously is that people heard an Elvis record, they felt sonically distant. What we’ve tried to do is put Elvis right there in the room with you. It’s going to help people understand his talents better.”

BIG LIKE THE BEATLES

Elvis’s record label, RCA, is hoping for a swell of popularity akin to The Beatles’ “1,” a similar greatest hits collection of the Fab Four’s No. 1 hits that was one of the best selling albums of 2001.

“‘1’ set the benchmark for the sales you can achieve when you have an iconic musical entity,” said Richard Sanders, executive vice president and general manager of RCA. “That’s what Elvis is, so we need to repolish Elvis to ensure that he’s seen the same way.”

But RCA could face an uphill battle. Since the advent of compact discs in the mid-1980s, RCA has littered the market with Elvis releases. At one point, some 150 different Elvis albums were available around the world – this from a man who released more than 50 albums in his 42 years of life.

And that’s not counting the scores of compilations and box sets on the market. By comparison, the Beatles have around 20 albums in print. So any cynicism on the part of Elvis fans could be forgiven.

“We had mishandled the releases of Elvis,” said Sanders, who joined the company last year. “We had oversaturated the market and we were on the verge of milking the well dry.”

So RCA is paring down the Elvis catalog to no more than 50 releases, and it plans on remixing the albums to match the high-quality sound of “30 #1 Hits.”

8-YEAR-OLD ELVIS FANS

The album is part of a push by RCA and the Presley estate to market Presley to younger fans. JXL, a dance music DJ, remixed the lesser-known Elvis song “A Little Less Conversation,” which was used in a Nike advertisement and reached No. 1 on the British sales charts.

What’s more, several scenes “Lilo & Stitch” feature the lead characters singing and dancing to Elvis tunes.

“With ‘Lilo & Stich’ we’re reaching two or three generations removed from Elvis, from 5-year-olds to their older siblings to their parents,” Sanders said. “The same thing with the Nike commercial and the JXL hit. Elvis is now on modern rock and dance radio stations. With ’30 #1 Hits,’ we’re trying to reach all of them.”

“My 8-year-old daughter knows all the words to ‘Burning Love,”‘ Bendeth said. “She got it from ‘Lilo & Stitch.’ There’s something about the timbre of Elvis’ voice that turns people on. When kids hear ‘Hound Dog,’ they go nuts.”

D.J. Fontana, who played drums with Elvis between 1954 and 1968, applauded the new collection. “It’s an amazing difference,” he said. “He would have loved this. And hopefully this will get people to focus on the man’s talent. Because that’s what was most important.”

Many of the songs on “30 #1 Hits” are being mixed for the first time. “It wasn’t easy,” Bendeth said. “There were times where we really felt the spirit of Elvis was helping us out.”

One song, “It’s Now Or Never,” was giving Bendeth and engineer Ray Bardani some trouble. After 10 hours of tinkering with the song, they remained unsatisfied with the results.

“So we took a break and decided just to leave it,” Bendeth recalls. “And when we got back, the vocal just sounded better. I wish I could take credit.”

“The only explanation is that Elvis was with us,” he said.

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